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Thick Skull a Survival Trait

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the so-now-you-know dept.

Science 58

Waffle Iron writes "This article at cnn.com reports: 'Scientists say the bulky craniums of the human ancestor, homo erectus, may have helped the species survive some aggressive mating rituals. After studying fossils in a region called Dragon Bone Hill in China, anthropologist Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa concluded males of the species were clubbing one another over the head, probably to win females.' However, the geekier cavemen may have won out at the end. The article goes on to say: '...evolution eventually favored a lighter skull to accommodate a heavier and larger brain'."

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58 comments

TNG (-1, Offtopic)

nocomment (239368) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272081)

ANyone else thing of Warf(sp?) from ST::TNG while reading this? *ick*

Re:TNG (4, Funny)

PD (9577) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272301)

the human ancestor, homo erectus

Ron Jeremy came to mind, actually.

Re:TNG (1)

snake_dad (311844) | more than 10 years ago | (#8275627)

That's the most disgusting form of "clubbing one another over the head" I've ever heard... I love it :)

Me.. No smart? (5, Funny)

E1ven (50485) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272117)

Me.. have big skull... Thicker than most friends... This.. Mean me no smart?
Years learning UNIX wasted. Me sad....
Is.. Causal relationship between big skull and dumb man found?

Me tell my college friends who crush beer cans on they head that they are evolving themselves.

I guess I go post a grits now...

Re:Me.. No smart? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8273028)

Somebody please defrost OOG [slashdot.org] . The caveman intellect is not what it was.

Re:Me.. No smart? (1)

charlesbakerharris (623282) | more than 10 years ago | (#8274696)

See, it's not the thinness of the skull that makes it tougher for wussy little geeks to crush beer cans against their heads.

It's more the fact that they're weaklings with a low pain tolerance. In short, they're complete nancies.

(OK, back to reading the JBoss documentation...)

Damn (2, Funny)

BoomerSooner (308737) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272154)

I thought that was a picture of my dead grandfather for a minute. I guess all italians look like monkey's as they get older!

Article in The Observer (3, Interesting)

FePe (720693) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272259)

Compare the article with this article [guardian.co.uk], "Big heads really are smarter".

It seems like the smartest people in the world has a large head and wears glasses.

Re:Article in The Observer (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | more than 10 years ago | (#8274084)

It seems like the smartest people in the world has a large head and wears glasses.

Actually, some of us prefer contacts.

Re:Article in The Observer (1)

FePe (720693) | more than 10 years ago | (#8274964)

I use contact lenses myself, but wear glasses occasionally. My idea was just that smart people (including geeks) tend to have a reduced sight, and some scientific studies has in fact concluded that the majority of people with a reduced sight are intellectually above average.

Re:Article in The Observer (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | more than 10 years ago | (#8275271)

My high school biology teacher had an interesting theory on why poor eye sight was not eliminated by evolution: While the cavemen with the good eyes went out hunting, the poor-sighted cavegeeks stayed home - with the cavewomen!

Perhaps with the advance of civilization and invention of the high school jock, only the smarter bespectacled individuals were able to later land well-paying jobs and opportunities to procreate.

Re:Article in The Observer (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | more than 10 years ago | (#8275961)

My high school biology teacher had an interesting theory on why poor eye sight was not eliminated by evolution: While the cavemen with the good eyes went out hunting, the poor-sighted cavegeeks stayed home - with the cavewomen!

Yeah, you'd need poor eyesight to get aroused when you think about how those cavewomen looked - beer wasn't invented yet.

fp for the Thick Skulls! (-1)

Muda69 (718162) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272288)

If this is true, then CmdrTaco would have been king of the world, oh about 50,000 years ago......

Shout out to Anti-Slash [anti-slash.org]!!!!!

Coworkers (5, Funny)

schnits0r (633893) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272300)

So that means my coworkers have a higher survival rate?

Someone had to say it, It might as well have been me.

clubbing one another over the head? (-1)

Captain Goatse (715400) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272343)

You sure they didn't club the females over the head instead? Date Rape rocks!

Or maybe it was the females... the horror :X

Thick Skull & Bones? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8272404)

George W. Bush is President. Need I say more.

Simpsons pot game (5, Funny)

Bowling Moses (591924) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272513)

My roommate and I have thrown several parties for friends of ours who finally got their PhD's. There's more concentrated drunken nerdliness at these things than probably is legal, and at several of them the pot game (from the Simpsons) happens. Two grad students or newly-minted PhD's grab pots from our kitchen and bash heads. So far only one real injury: a cracked but not broken nose (the pots escape undamaged). So if the thicker skull of H. erectus was due to ritualized violence does that mean that the street preacher who came to campus last month was right when he called us a bunch of degenerates?

Re:Simpsons pot game (3, Funny)

TomorrowPlusX (571956) | more than 10 years ago | (#8273262)

So if the thicker skull of H. erectus was due to ritualized violence does that mean that the street preacher who came to campus last month was right when he called us a bunch of degenerates?

Yes, but that would require him to accept... gasp... evolution.

The dirtiest word of all!

Re:Simpsons pot game (1)

Mirkon (618432) | more than 10 years ago | (#8275643)

It's just an example of adaptation overcoming natural evolution.

Now, if there was a simple way to make working flight wings out of household appliances, then we'd have a stew going.

*Tnok* *Squee!* (4, Funny)

NanoGator (522640) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272521)

"Scientists say the bulky craniums of the human ancestor, homo erectus, may have helped the species survive some aggressive mating ritual"

So we Slashdotters all have thin skulls because... oh man, I've been burned by Darwin!

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (3, Interesting)

metlin (258108) | more than 10 years ago | (#8273317)

I know this is intended to be funny, but it makes me wonder.

Are we at a state where social skills are more important than intellectual skills? Often, the more intelligent ones are the ones with really poor social skills.

Just think about it - the Slashdot crowd is largely the cream (or atleast a significant part) of the intellectual populace.

And if this is the case, the *intelligent* ones are actually being beaten by the less capable ones. The more intellectual ones are the ones who are single.

And these are the ones who are capable of changing the world, who are capable of doing radical things, who can think outside the box. However, these very people are socially so inept.

Does this not fly in the face of Darwinism? Just wondering, as someone who had a bad breakup the day before Valentine's day :)

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (1)

Alrescha (50745) | more than 10 years ago | (#8274224)

"Just think about it - the Slashdot crowd is largely the cream (or atleast a significant part) of the intellectual populace."

Clearly, you haven't really thought about it...

A.

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (2, Interesting)

NanoGator (522640) | more than 10 years ago | (#8274533)

"Are we at a state where social skills are more important than intellectual skills? Often, the more intelligent ones are the ones with really poor social skills."

This may be true at the age of 20, but how about 40? I had a terrible time in high school, but now I'm in my mid-20's, and I'm not having anywhere near the problems with women that I used to. I think when women reach a certain phase in their lives, it's less about looks and more about "Can I stand this guy?"

"And if this is the case, the *intelligent* ones are actually being beaten by the less capable ones. The more intellectual ones are the ones who are single."

Not to rehash what I said before, but I really think this situation only really occurs in the younger age brackets. I have a tough time imagining that when most of the people that frequent here reach 40, they're not married or at least have a very significant relationship.

"Does this not fly in the face of Darwinism? Just wondering, as someone who had a bad breakup the day before Valentine's day :)"

Not if smart people use condoms. ;) Seriously, though, one would probably find that 'geeks' are fewer in number than jocks. If women don't find geekier types as attractive, then yeah there'll be fewer babies born to these folks. Does this fly in the face of what I just said? No, I don't think so. Farther down the line, people get more responsible. A 30 year old is less likely to become pregnant 'accidentally' than a 20 year old. But at the young age, you get caught up in hormones, find an attractive mate and...

On a side note, diversity is more important than brains. Would it be so bad if genetics made us a little less smart and a little more physical? Having brains is probably nice, but it sure makes opening pickle jobs needlessly difficult.

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (1)

OECD (639690) | more than 10 years ago | (#8274818)

I really think this situation only really occurs in the younger age brackets.

Yes, among those who do the bulk of the reproduction. That's when the 'selection' occurs.

A 30 year old is less likely to become pregnant 'accidentally' than a 20 year old.

A 30 year old is less likely to become pregnant at all than a 20 year old.

When you think about it, all those stupid, impulsive kids are outbreeding us smart folks who take precautions and have (maybe) one child.

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (1)

TWX (665546) | more than 10 years ago | (#8275297)

"When you think about it, all those stupid, impulsive kids are outbreeding us smart folks who take precautions and have (maybe) one child."

Uh, that's always been the case. The Every Sperm is Sacred skit from "Monty Python: The Meaning of Life" isn't far off. My dad was the last of seventeen children, and most of his brothers and sisters aren't exactly doing any better than their parents. He didn't have to help raise more family members and was therefore able to go off to college, discontinuing the cycle for his progeny.

I know two girls who work at the Starbucks next to my work who are pregant. They just hired a third girl to find out that she's pregnant as well. These girls aren't exactly in the pinnacle of trained careers, and it actually makes sense that something like this would be more typical. It's not nice, but it's not surprising.

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (1)

Justice8096 (673052) | more than 10 years ago | (#8291418)

Geeks being frowned upon seems to be a white thing - I have had long conversations with my friend who came from Taiwan as to why people in America find physical ability more important than intellectual activity. And when I lived in the ghetto, my "geekiness" was not as much of a problem as when I moved into suburbia.
Oddly enough, most of the white woman who were interested in me were already married - as you can guess, my wife is not white.

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (1)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 10 years ago | (#8291440)

I think when women reach a certain phase in their lives, it's less about looks and more about "Can I stand this guy?"

Seems to happen at about 25 - 30 years old, as the "all my friends are married and I'm not" crisis (followed soon after by the "all my friends have children and I don't" crisis that hits around 30 - 35).

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (1)

eggstasy (458692) | more than 10 years ago | (#8278608)

Intellectual skills and social skills are mostly irrelevant in an evolutionary context, since they are usually environmental traits, not inherited ones. A lot of smart people have really dumb kids etc.

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 10 years ago | (#8279961)

"the Slashdot crowd is largely the cream (or atleast a significant part) of the intellectual populace."

And here was I thinking that the Slashdot crowd was largely the "hot grits" of the intellectual populace.

Re:*Tnok* *Squee!* (2, Insightful)

fbform (723771) | more than 10 years ago | (#8282026)

And these are the ones who are capable of changing the world, who are capable of doing radical things, who can think outside the box. However, these very people are socially so inept

I contemplated your post for a day before deciding to respond. I've had this idea for a while now that individual humans are not the functional unit anymore. It's become society vs society. As long as the individual is contributing to society in some way, he/she is accepted. Geeks and Nerds contribute directly through innovation. Less capable people contribute indirectly through their offspring, on the chance that some of them may in turn become Geeks or Nerds.

Think of a colony of ants. There is only one "queen" whose sole task is to lay eggs. Nobody else is capable of reproduction, but the workers keep the colony alive. Thus individuals die out without reproducing but the colony survives. Of course ants are an extreme example with only one reproducer per colony. Make that a few reproducers per society and pit societies against each other. You've now got humans in the present day.

Maybe that's why it hardly raises eyebrows these days when someone decides not to have kids. In my grandparents' time, it was considered unthinkable (evil, deviant, freakish...). Think of it in a slightly different light, and you now get the reason why homosexuality is considered perfectly normal. The fitness function has become "what do you contribute to society", not "what do you do to ensure the survival of your genes".

Beating each other for females... (1)

Richard Allen (213475) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272577)

Would there be enough of this going on to account for evolutionary development of thick skulls?<BR><BR>
Does this sound like an awful lot of beating going on to anyone else?

Re:Beating each other for females... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8275811)

I agree with you. This seems like flakey science to me. Running away is much easier than taking a beating, but our running capacities (speed and distance) have not improved much. I think there are a ton of evolutionary things that would have happened instead of perpetuation of thick skulls.

rotfl (1)

real_smiff (611054) | more than 10 years ago | (#8272587)

"males of the species were clubbing one another over the head, probably to win females... evidence from dozens of fossils with healed skull fractures: presumably from the hard-heads who got the girls."

Right :D. No change there then.

"They experimented with human cadavers to establish how much force it would take to break bones."

This research sounds like fun. Sick, but fun.

Proof that our ancestors were Chinese! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8272741)

The American way: defense and deterrence
big thick skull = less brain cells lost per hit

The Chinese way: throw bodies at the problem
big brains = more brain cells left, even after getting clobbered!

Ob Simpsons (3, Funny)

xleeko (551231) | more than 10 years ago | (#8273093)

We know the true name of this condition ...

Dr Hibbert: You have an absolutely unique genetic condition known as "Homer
Simpson syndrome".
Homer: [moaning] Oh, why me?

Dr Hibbert: Why, I could wallop you all day with this surgical two-by-four
without ever knocking you down.

--From "The Homer They Fall"

The geeks just made spears (1)

crstophr (529410) | more than 10 years ago | (#8273204)

Geeks are excellent tool makers/tool users. Bigger brain = better weapons. Spear wins out over club.

One problem (1)

unassimilatible (225662) | more than 10 years ago | (#8277911)

However, the geekier cavemen may have won out at the end. The article goes on to say: '...evolution eventually favored a lighter skull to accommodate a heavier and larger brain'."

I disagree with the premise that those homo erecti with larger brains were necessarily geeks. Being smart doesn't make one a geek and being a geek doesn't make one smart. Some geeks a smart, some are dumb.

Some smart people are cool and stylish and date lots of girls and hate computers and Star Trek and LOTR.

Johnny Hart's BC (1)

dahjelle (642584) | more than 10 years ago | (#8273473)

Anyone else think of Johnny Hart's BC cartoon? Except I think it was the cavewomen that got bonked...apparently they wouldn't go with the cavemen otherwise.

Evolution (0)

MonkeysKickAss (735143) | more than 10 years ago | (#8273605)

Well its not always the biggest brain that is best, because it depends on how our evolutionary ancestors used it. The "geekier" ones would probable die because they don't now how to do things on their own and aren't as creative as the people whose main goal is reproduction. If you look at animals like the opposum you will notice that they have many babies because they have such a short lifespan, while animals like the Galapogos turtles had longer lives and therefore didn't need to have as large of broods. Its all about survival of the fittest and so animals adapted when and how many babies they would have depending on their life expectancy and therefore give their species the greatest possible outcome for survival

Skull features (5, Informative)

pajamacore (613970) | more than 10 years ago | (#8273643)

The article fails to go into depth concerning any of Homo erectus' actual skull features which might have lessened trauma in a conflict.

H. erectus skullcaps are pachyostic, meaning to possess an increase in size, density, or mineral content. There is a thickening along the midline of the skull that resembles a boat's keel. Thusly, it is referred to as "sagittal keeling". Also, there is a projecting brow ridge with which most people are familiar and bony thickenings on the sides and rear of the cranium.

If a heavy blow were to hit a modern human on the top of his or her head, the bone would cave in. Hematoma, coma, and death are likely results of this. The thicker bone of erectoids is less likely to fracture on impact.

Anyone who's been in a fight though, will tell you that you're probably going to deliver blows at eye-level. The thick ring of bone starting above the eye sockets and continuing around the skull help protect against trauma to the head. For one, your eye sockets are protected because of the brow ridge. Secondly, you have thick bones above your temples and ears to protect the sinuses that conduct blood into the internal jugular vein. The ridge on the rear of the skull protects sinuses carrying blood to the cerebullum and occipital lobe of the brain.

The roofs of H. erectus eye sockets are flat and horizontal and any blow to them would be transmitted to the back of the skull, thusly protecting the bones around the eye. The H. erectus face was also tucked under brow ridges, which made it harder to fracture cheek bones and to separate the facial skeleton from the braincase.

The jaw also thickens just behind the chin, the most common place for breaks in modern peoples. Erectoids differed from modern humans in the placement of arteries in and around the temple area. The main blood supply of the meningeal artery was moved away from this vulnerable area because the bone there was particularly thin and this movement lessened the effects of the breakage of arteries in that area.

There are other differences, but those are the major ones covered in the work of Ciochon and Boaz.

Hey man, I've got that "boat keel" thing going on. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8274589)

Somewhere around 1/4' to 3/8" above the
rest of my skull. I'd look really stupid
if I ever shave my head or go bald. Either
that, or people would just assume I was a
fair-skinned Klingon (but without the bumps).

I once saw a casting of a old
homo-somethingerother skull with a serious
ridge. Was perhaps a inch and a half tall,
looked something like a fin from a old
comic book character. It was explained by
this fellow having a diet of really hard
things (like nuts) and the munching muscles
actually anchored to his skull way up there
at the top, instead of his cheekbone. You
wouldn't happen to know this fellow's name
would you? It escapes me.

j

Re:Hey man, I've got that "boat keel" thing going (1)

pajamacore (613970) | more than 10 years ago | (#8275223)

You're thinking of the various Paranthropus specimens: P. aethiopicus, P. robustus, and P. boisei. Like male gorillas, they had a bony crest on top of the skull to anchor their massive jaw muscles.

Re:Hey man, I've got that "boat keel" thing going (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8277141)

Thanks, that's the guy. When did they
change names from A. to P.? I'd never
heard of Paranthropus before. So
either my memory is much leakier than
I realized, or it was fairly recently
made up.

j

Head butts (1)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 10 years ago | (#8275588)

You always see these action heroes in movies using head butts to knock guys out. I guess movie goers think this provides comic relief to see a guy knocked out using a fighting tactic most of us don't consider using. Then there was a film clip for real on TV news of a high-school wrestler knocking a ref out with a head butt and the stink this caused about violent anti-sportsman like conduct and what this says about values among students today.

I perhaps too innocently asked a high-school student about the physics of head butts (I was teaching a college level course mixing thermodynamics and energy policy to math and science oriented high school students). My question was why this would knock someone out without knocking yourself out.

The answer offered was that one butted with the top of one's head against the forehead of an opponent -- you took the impact eyeballs down while your opponent in the fight took the impact eyeballs in where it could inflict a counter-coups concussion injury. You are suggesting that blows to the top of the head are not a good idea.

I don't want give people ideas on how to fight dirty and inflict brain injury on other people, but I am still curious if there is some physics behind head butts.

Re:Head butts (1)

BerntB (584621) | more than 10 years ago | (#8277670)

Lots of martial arts teach head butts. (I doubt any of the sporty ones teach it for real, though.)

This [selfdefensenow.com] is the result of 30 seconds with Google.

aggressive mating rituals (2, Funny)

Big Sean O (317186) | more than 10 years ago | (#8273773)

Y'all seem to think that it's only the males who benefit from having thick skulls.

It benefits women too, vis--vis the headboard. There's nothing like a coital concussion to kill the romance.

Re:aggressive mating rituals (1)

/dev/trash (182850) | more than 10 years ago | (#8275311)

Jesus man, if it takes THAT much force to get insertion and penetration, use some lubrication.

Fight Club != mating ritual (2, Funny)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 10 years ago | (#8274753)

So a buch of cave guys played skull bashing games. What does this have to do with mating? My guess is that while 'the guys' were off in the woods, spanking each other, chanting "thank you sir, may I have another?!", the smart, sensitive caveguys had started a band with instruments they built, wrote love songs and poetry, cried and wept, and seduced women .

"Hm. Son like poetry. Not want go hunting with guys. Uses bow make music. Son remind me of that nerd Grog. Hey! Hm. Idea gone."

Neanderthals In The Hood (1)

StuWho (748218) | more than 10 years ago | (#8274946)

"the University of Iowa concluded males of the species were clubbing one another over the head, probably to win females."

Probably over drugs of some kind - the first fermented drinks perhaps - rather than females. Coincides with first domestication of the horse, and the first "ride-by clubbings", reported by Scrotal and Bawbag in their seminal 1979 study "Neanderthals In The Hood".

Cavemen with clubs (1)

lrucker (621551) | more than 10 years ago | (#8275031)

males of the species were clubbing one another over the head, probably to win females

This reminds me of all those old cartoon cavemen with clubs, dragging a cavewoman by the hair after he'd knocked her out with the club.

Well, now I know... (1)

inode_buddha (576844) | more than 10 years ago | (#8276009)

...why some of my cow-orkers are still alive. The thick skull is necessary to survive enraged beatings by the more clueful. It's also harder for small lizards to fuck a thicker gourd.

Can anyone see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8276224)

that this is just another story invented to explain something after the fact? Nothing to do with science.

Oh geez noone figured it out yet? Thick skulls! (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 10 years ago | (#8278754)

The dumb thick skulled males beat each other over the head to determine who can mate. This would lead to the thickest skulled breeding the most hence having the most kids and therefore the winner.

This did not happen as our skulls are thin.

What really happened is that while the thick skulled ones were bashing each other brains in the thin skulled nerd was clubbing out the women and dragging them to his cave.

Hence women with the thinnest skulls tended to get clubbed out the easiest and become the mother of this nerds offspring.

This guy got so much action that now the entire human race has thin skulls.

Flamebait part

Sadly he clubbed the women so hard that they haven't caught on and still get pregnant at the prom from a thick skulled jock. And then bitch that no guys want to date a woman with a kid. It ain't the kid honey. It is that you didn't have the brains to use the pill.

Conslusion: evolution ain't a lab experiment. It is messy and nasty and it is not survival of the fittest but rather survival of those that survive. Fit guys get drafted and send to the front, unfit guys stay home and comfort the women.

Re:Oh geez noone figured it out yet? Thick skulls! (1)

mce (509) | more than 10 years ago | (#8285933)

Fit guys get drafted and send to the front, unfit guys stay home and comfort the women.

That merely means that in times of war in the kind of society where this pattern occurs and wars are fought at fronts instead of globally, the ones unfit to go to the front are the fittest as far as overall survival is concerned. That is, in fact, nothing new. Being fittest should in no way be seen as "being in excellent physical condition", but as "being best adapted to the circumstances at hand".

Survival of the fittest/strongest also is a statistical thing, strongly influenced by the circumstances and luck. The accidental death of an individual that many would consider very fit does not disclaim the theory. Neither does the mass-extinction of a ruling species like the dinosaurs triggered to a one-in-a-billion-days accident over which they had no control. They ruled the earth until that day and would have done so for a lot longer had that rock passed by a few hours earlier of later. But it didn't and thus at that point in time the dinosaurs suddenly became unfit.

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